Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Don't Just Do Something - Sit There! - Mark 1:28-37

Old Testament Lesson                                                         Psalm 46:1-3, 8-10a

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present[a] help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.

10 “Be still,

and know that I am God!

New Testament Lesson                                                                  Mark 1:28-37
 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
29 As soon as they[a] left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 
36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

“Don’t Just Do Something - Sit There”
Maynard Pittendreigh

 A few years ago I was in a conversation with some folks and we started talking about Sunday morning worship and each of us began sharing what was his or her favorite part.

One person said it was the Apostles’ Creed, because it was at that moment that he was able to stand up and declare his faith.

Another person said it was the prayer, because there were so many things on her heart that she wanted to pray for.

Another person said it was the prelude.

I looked at this person and was surprised.  “You mean it is not the sermon?”

”Oh no, preacher.  It’s definitely the prelude.”

When I asked what made the prelude so meaningful, he said it was because his whole week was so full, and so busy, and so intense.  But when he came into the Sanctuary and the prelude began, it was the only time all week when he could just sit back, be quiet, and be with God.

Most of us are simply too busy to stop and do nothing for even a few moments each week.

Most of us feel like we need to be active every minute of the day.

We confuse busy-ness with being
 productive, successful, efficient, effective and meaningful.

So it comes as a surprise to read our New Testament lesson and to find Jesus, not being so busy with life. In fact, in the midst of a very busy time in his life, he sneaks off to a solitary place and prays.

Quiet time – doing nothing but talking to God.

Most of us are too busy to do anything like that!

Most of us feel like we need to be busy doing something. And for some reason, prayer just doesn’t feel “busy” or “active” enough.

We are a people and a society in which being busy makes us feel like we are worthwhile.

If we are not doing something, there is something within us that makes us feel like we are lazy, or that we are wasting our time.

A generation or two ago, the life of the family was going to be revolutionized by the automatic washing machine. Up until then, washing the family’s laundry literally took an entire day. People referred to one day of their weekly routine as wash day.

Then technology came through with the washing machine, and you could throw the clothing into a machine, and then leave it and go do something else. What a time saver.

So what happened? Did we get more time to relax? No, we filled our time with other duties.

The computer was the same way. It enables us to do more our work in a lot less time. But do we get off work early? No. We simply do more work.

There is something within us that compels us to fill up every moment of our time.

Even if we are not talking about work, our families are stretched to the limit with activities as we go from ballet classes to soccer to outings at the beach to concerts to this and to that.

It is as if we are afraid of what might happen if we would just be still for a moment.

And I’m as bad as anyone about this – I confess, I find it hard to sit still and be at rest.  Sunday is the Sabbath and for me it is a work day that usually starts before 7am and ends around 8 or 9 pm. 

Every day is filled and packed with things to do.

Even when I’m standing in line I get out my phone because on my phone there is a Kindle and hundreds of books and I start reading because heaven forbid I just be still and rest.

In our New Testament lesson, Jesus is very busy.

Mark’s Gospel is the most 21st Century-compatible Gospel there is. Because Mark gives the impression that everyone is always in a hurry – always busy. The word “immediately” appears over 50 times in Mark’s Gospel.

Mark tells the story of Jesus being baptized and then he says, “And immediately the Holy Spirit sent him into the desert.”

Then Jesus encounters Simon and Andrew fishing and invites them to be disciples and Mark says, “Immediately they left their nets.”

Jesus heals people and casts out demons, and “immediately and quickly the news spread about Jesus.”

And finally, after a fast paced beginning, Mark says that “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Even in the fast paced, and very successful and meaningful life of Jesus, there was the need to sometimes retreat to a quiet, lonely place for reflection, meditation, prayer and communion with God.

This is absolutely necessary in our busy lives. It makes our busy lives worthwhile and bearable. More than bearable – times of being in a solitary and quiet place with God enable us to do the work we are to do.
Jesus doesn’t just go to that quiet and solitary place and stays there. He goes there to recharge his spiritual batteries. Being there enables him to then get up and move onto find other places to preach his message.

Now if you think that living life in a fast paced, busy fashion is only a problem to the modern age, think again.

In the Gospel of Luke, there is a wonderful story of Jesus being hosted by sisters Martha and Mary. (Luke 10:38-42)

Jesus comes to their home. Mary is content to be still and silent, and to be with the Lord. Martha can’t do that. She has to be busy. She complains to Jesus that her sister isn’t helping her work. In the words of Luke’s Gospel, Martha becomes "distracted and upset at many things."

And so it is with us.

Jesus is in the midst of our life.

But we become distracted and upset at many things.

Our world is so busy, our lives are so full. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could slow down just a bit, and be still, and simply experience the presence of God in our lives.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could, in the midst of work, family pressures, school work, and just turn off the television, turn off the cell phones, leave the pagers at home, and just be still – just meditate – just pray?

Being still and quiet from time to time is God’s will for our lives.

First, we need to rest from our work, and find that solitary place of quiet.

Not long ago, a fellow minister shared with me a conversation he had with one of his parishioners. He said that one day an angry church member called him up on the telephone one morning, saying, "I phoned you Saturday, but I couldn’t get you."

The preacher explained that it was his day off.

"What? A day off? The devil never takes a day off!" exclaimed the member with holier-than-thou indignation.

"That’s right, " said the minister, "and if I didn’t take any ’time out,’ I would be just like him!"

We all need times in our week when we slow down and become still and quiet because it is vital for our soul. So important is this principle, that God made the command for a day of rest, a Sabbath, part of the Ten Commandments.

From Mrs. Lettie Cowman’s book, Springs in the Valley (pp. 196-197), comes this interesting tale from African colonial history:

It was a century or more ago that in the deep jungles of Africa, a traveler was making a long trek. Natives of the area were hired to carry the loads. The first day they marched rapidly and went far. The traveler had high hopes of a speedy journey. But the second morning these jungle tribesmen refused to move. For some strange reason they just sat and rested. When asked about the reason for this strange behavior, the traveler was informed that they had gone too fast the first day, and that they were now waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.

There are times when our lives move so fast, that we need to slow down and let our souls catch up with us --not literally, but figuratively.

According to tradition, when the apostle John was bishop in Ephesus, his hobby was raising pigeons. On one occasion an Ephesian elder passed his house as he returned from hunting. When he saw John playing with one of his birds, he gently criticized the old apostle for spending his time so frivolously.

John looked at his critic’s bow and remarked that the string was loosened.  It was one of those old-fashioned bows with the single string, not at all like the compound bows of today with their pullies and the string that is always in place.

"Yes," said the huntsman, "I also loosen the string of my bow when it’s not in use. If it always stayed tight, it would lose its rebounding quality and fail me in the hunt."

"And I," said John, "am now relaxing the bow of my mind so that I may be better able to shoot the arrows of divine truth."

Second, when we have that time in a solitary place, we need to pray.

That’s what Jesus did. He went to his solitary place to pray.

Prayer is not always a matter of talking to God, or telling God a list of things that we need for him to do.

We think that prayer is talking to God, giving God a list of things we want him to do.

“Heal me from my headache, make my car last another week, bring down the gas prices, do something about Isis and other terrorist groups, etc.”

Prayer is spending time with God. It might involve asking for things. It might involve thanking God for things. It might be simply being with God.

Have you ever simply spent time with someone, and you are both just quiet. Not really saying anything. Just quietly being together. Perhaps with your spouse. Or holding your child. Or at the bedside of your sick parent.

We need to spend more of that kind of time with God.

Quiet time with God.

We will rarely find God in the hectic moments in our lives, but we will often find Him in the quiet moments.

Elijah, in the Bible, had an interesting experience in the Old Testament book of I Kings (19:11-12).

The Lord told this prophet, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by."

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind.

After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake.

After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper, a "still, small voice."

Mother Teresa has observed, "God rarely is found in the midst of noise and restlessness; instead, He is the friend of silence."

The Psalmist in the Bible tells us (Ps 37:7), "Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him."
And elsewhere, the Psalmist tells us, (Ps 46:10), "Be still, and know that I am God."

But we are too much like Martha. Just as she was in the Gospel of Luke, we are “distracted and upset by many things.”

For we live in a Martha World.

When what God would have us to do is to just be still, and be quiet in his presence.

In the business of our lives, we need to be like Mary. There are times when we need to just stop and be quiet and still, and rest in the simple presence of the Lord.

It is good for our own soul, it is good for our relationship with others, and it is good for our relationship with God.

Several years ago, newspapers told how a new Navy jet fighter shot itself down.

Flying at supersonic speed, it ran into cannon shells it had fired only a few seconds before. The jet was traveling too fast!

Some of us are traveling through our lives too fast. We’re going to find ourselves in a mode of self destruction.

There come times when we need to slow down and let our souls catch up with us, and even though we live in a Martha world, we need to be still and quietly rest in the presence of God.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved
Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.